‘Dear Italy, I have left, but would return if...’
Agence France-Presse in Milan and Brussels
As thousands of Italians leave the country to look for work elsewhere, one young journalist’s blog claims to offer “a megaphone for this generation,” a voice to all those who profess to be ready to return “if...”.
From disenchanted rants to nostalgic laments, feedback from young film directors, researchers and doctors in New York, France and Germany are published by Antonio Siragusa on his blog “iotornose.it” (“I’ll come back, if...”).
“They have an interesting point of view on Italy, which is not heard enough. They can propose changes inspired by the countries where they are living better lives,” the 28-year-old blogger from Caserte, near Naples in southern Italy, told AFP.
“The situation is dramatic. As a precarious worker, I feel it personally,” said Siragusa, who began the blog after his brother, cousins and friends began to emigrate, and does not rule out packing his cases too “if nothing changes”.
The stories on his blog speak of a country stuck in a two-year recession, where anti-crisis austerity programmes have squeezed ordinary Italians hard, but they also denounce a deep-seated culture of nepotism and corruption.
“I would like to return to Italy because the quality of life is better... but here I get a salary I could never dream of back home and my work is appreciated,” said Michela Pascucci, 27, who works for PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Brussels.
Natascia Musardo, 28, studying for a doctorate in law at Mainz University in Germany, said: “I’d return, even if I had to earn half as much, if there was a decent job to go to.”
“I’d come back if, to achieve things, I was not forced to make frustrating or illegal compromises; if I was able, by investing time and energy, to obtain my goals without being someone’s “daughter”; if Italy was ready to hire me on merit and choose someone else over me if they are better than me,” she said.
From 2000 to 2010, according to a survey cited by La Stampa newspaper, 316,000 Italians between 25 and 37-years-old with university degrees emigrated, the majority heading for Germany, followed by Britain, France and the United States.
Confindustria business association head Giorgio Squinzi said this month that Italy had spent five billion euros (HK$50.8 billion) on educating those now working abroad, sardonically adding: “our incredulous competitors thank us for this precious gift.”
Gabriele Scoditti, a 28-year-old project controller in San Francisco, says on the blog: “after living abroad, especially in a place like Silicon Valley, you can see how, while returning to Italy is possible, the price to pay is high.”
“If you do it, you do it for your heart, not for your career,” he said.
The eurozone’s third largest economy did worse than thought in the first quarter of this year, shrinking by 0.6 per cent, and the national unemployment rate in April rose to 12 per cent.
The brain drain phenomenon is not new to Italy, but the issue has been exacerbated over the last few months, with youth unemployment reaching 40.5 per cent in April, sparking promises of government action.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta earlier this month apologised to the country’s young for letting them down, saying: “the biggest debt that we are accumulating... is towards the young people, which is an unforgivable mistake.”
He vowed to push for action to “free up the energy of a country stifled by privileges, bureaucracy and conservatism”.
Letta has also been at the forefront of calls for EU leaders to take immediate measures to boost job creation when they meet on Thursday and Friday.
The Italian government is set to unveil next week a series of measures for tackling unemployment, such as tax breaks for firms hiring young people, but many -- including the thousands of protesters who took to the streets of Rome last weekend -- say enough is not being done.
“Letta must do more than say sorry. We need a very courageous policy. Nobody has done anything about it in twenty years,” said Gianluca Spina, president of Milan’s business school MIP.
Italy’s taxes are “excessive on payrolls and too low on property,” he said.
“We cannot cut taxes but we can shift them. Such measures would be difficult to implement, however, because Silvio Berlusconi’s right is very against the idea of a property tax.”
At the moment, Italy “is a country which exports brains and imports muscles.
“It has become a country of emigration once more, but unlike previous waves driven by the lower classes, this is an ‘emigration of talent’,” Spina said.
With one young person out of four out of work, the European Union is hobbled by high rates of youth unemployment, a potential powder keg for popular discontent, especially in the worst affected southern countries.
Here is an overview of the situation, based on figures for April, the latest provided by the EU statistics office Eurostat. The youth unemployment reading is for those people aged 16-25.
GREECE: Twice bailed-out Greece has the worst youth unemployment rate of all, at 62.5 per cent, compared with an overall jobless rate of 27 per cent. The government, desperately short of funds, has announced limited trainee programmes but these have been overwhelmed by the numbers.
SPAIN: One of the countries hardest hit by the debt crisis combined with a real estate crash, Spain narrowly held on to avoid a full-scale bailout last year. Its youth unemployment rate comes in at 56.4 per cent, more than double the overall jobless tally at 26.8 per cent.
In March the government unveiled “15 shock measures,” including training for 450,000 youths who suffer from a “teaching deficit.”
The plan is tipped to cost 3.5 billion euros over four years, with 32 per cent paid by the EU.
Young entrepreneurs get to keep part of their unemployment benefits and social welfare costs have been reduced for the hiring of young workers for up to three years.
PORTUGAL: Suffering like neighbour Spain, Portugal needed a debt rescue in 2011. Its youth unemployment rate is 42.5 per cent, compared with the national rate of 17.8 per cent. A plan was launched a year ago to help 90,000 youths find work but only 12,000 have been signed up.
The government has simplified the plan and wants to expand it to cover 120,000 youths within a year.
ITALY: Like Spain, many believed Italy too would need a bailout last year but it too has managed to hold the line. It has a youth unemployment rate of 40.5 per cent, more than three times the overall rate of 12 per cent.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta has promised to make the fight against youth unemployment a top priority for his grand coalition government, saying that the policies of previous administrations have always favoured older workers.
The government is planning to deploy unused EU funds to bring school-leavers into the labour market. The problem is particularly acute in southern Italy -- where women as a whole and young people are more likely than not to be out of work.
GERMANY: In marked contrast with weaker southern EU members, economic powerhouse Germany has very much lower youth unemployment, running at 7.5 per cent in April, compared with the overall jobless rate of 5.4 per cent.
Germany is a success story, having managed to keep youth unemployment to a minimum, with 1.5 million enrolled in training programmes.
The youth jobless rate has been cut in half since 2005, in part owing to a low birth rate which has reduced competition for jobs.
Traineeships account for about 60 per cent of first jobs and can be found from 16 years onwards.
AUSTRIA: Youth unemployment 8.0 per cent, overall jobless 4.9 per cent. Around 40 per cent of young Austrians from the age of 15 can enter training programmes for three years.
Those who do not find work can be retrained by state officials and partner companies to work in fields where companies are hiring.